By Ben Golliver
The Lakers announced the firing of coach Mike Brown on Friday after a 1-4 start.
"This was a difficult and painful decision to make," Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said in a prepared statement. "Mike was very hard-working and dedicated, but we felt it was in the best interest of the team to make a change at this time. We appreciate Mike’s efforts and contributions and wish him and his family the best of luck."
Brown also issued a brief statement: "I have great respect for the Buss family and the Lakers’ storied tradition and I thank them for the opportunity they afforded me. I have a deep appreciation for the coaches and players that I worked with this past year and I wish the organization nothing but success as they move forward."
Yahoo! Sports also reported the decision, noting that Kupchak was hoping for a more patient approach and that the decision came from ownership.
Within past 24 hours, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak had pushed ownership to give Mike Brown more time before firing him.
The Los Angeles Times reported that assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff will coach the Lakers on Friday night, when they play host to the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center, and that a coaching search will commence from there.
The move comes just hours after ESPN.com reported that Brown's job status hung on the Lakers' performance during an upcoming six-game homestand and just two days after executive vice president Jim Buss openly questioned whether Brown's system was "flawed" and appeared to lay the groundwork for a possible coaching change. The Lakers are in the midst of their worst start since 1993-1994.
"I have no problems with Mike Brown at all,” Buss said on Wednesday. “He just works too hard and he’s too knowledgeable for this to be happening. So either the system is flawed or something’s going on. Or, like the Triangle, it’s very hard to pick up and understand. I’m not a basketball mind like he is or the players are, and the players are fine with it, so I just have to be patient."
"I've been his biggest supporter," Bryant said of Brown. "I'm really too old to be dealing with childish things."
Last week, Bryant told Lakers critics to "shut up," saying that it was his job to tamp down the public criticism because he, like former Lakers coach Phil Jackson but unlike Brown, is an NBA champion.
"The critics are more likely to take runs at him [Brown] than they would at Phil Jackson," Bryant said. "I’ve won, so I can [call for silence]. Mike, it would be a little tougher for him to say that. So I’ll say it for him: Everybody shut up. Let us work."
In recent weeks, star center Dwight Howard, acquired in a summer trade from the Orlando Magic, had also preached patience.
“We’ll get better with time,” Howard said last week. “L.A. wasn’t built in a day. … We need to stay patient. We need all of our fans to stay patient with us. This is a process. Dynasties weren’t built in a day.”
The Lakers, despite entering the season with four potential All-Stars in their starting lineup and a $100 million payroll, have the worst record in the Western Conference. Brown's decision to implement a Princeton offense and the Lakers' porous defense, ranked No. 22 in the league, apparently caught up to him. It's been a nightmare start all-around for the Lakers, who also lost starting point guard Steve Nash to a non-displaced fracture in his fibula in the team's second game of the season.
On Friday, Bryant posted his response to Brown's firing in a message on his official Facebook page.
"Tough day," Bryant's statement read. "I've seen coaches as well as friends come and go. No matter how many years I've been playing, it's still hard to deal with. I had a good relationship with Mike and I will continue to have one. I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I spoke with him today and thanked him for all of his hard work and sacrifice. As a team, we must focus our energy on tonight's game. We must block out the weight of today's news and simply do our jobs to the best of our ability. I'm not sure what direction we are heading in next. All I can do is focus on the here and now."
Lakers forward Pau Gasol also addressed the news after Lakers' shootaround on Friday.
"It's a pretty direct message to all of us,'' Gasol said, according to the Associated Press. "There's no messing around. It's time for all of us to step it up."
Brown, 42, signed a four-year contract worth a reported $18.25 million guaranteed in May 2011. The Lakers held a team option on the last season, so Brown will be paid salary for the remainder of this season and 2013-14 to the tune of a reported $11 million. He holds a career record of 314-167 in seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Lakers. In addition to Mike D'Antoni, who abruptly resigned as coach of the Knicks last season, a number of well-regarded coaches are currently available, including Jackson, former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and former Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan. CBSSports.com reports that former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, now a Pacers assistant coach, could also be a candidate. He was a finalist for the Lakers job before Brown was hired.